Pipeline integrity is a term that encompasses many things today: a process of prevention, detection and mitigation of failures. At Schneider Electric, we believe the industry needs to continue to place a strong, if not stronger, emphasis on attempting to prevent an unscheduled commodity release from occurring; because the consequences of failure are predictable, immediate and often grave.
Rather than focusing strategies and investment on reacting to potential issues, pipeline operators can take significant, proactive steps in real-time to avoid unscheduled commodity releases from occurring in the first place. The best defense is a good offense, and we strive to provide solutions that focus on helping you prevent commodity releases, not react to them.
In this blog, we’ll look at various aspects related to preventing pipeline commodity releases.
Design and construction factors
Designing and constructing a pipeline sounds easy enough, but as any pipeline engineer will tell you there are a lot of moving parts to ensure the right products can get from point A to point B, efficiently and safely.
Operators need to consider the long-term design lifespan of a new pipeline to determine all the different supply and delivery points, and commodity types that might travel through the pipeline. For example, terrain and weather can have a significant impact on pipeline operation, effecting the flow dynamics of the product being transported. A cheap and simple pipeline construction following the shortest route from supply point A to delivery point B may be more expensive for the operator in the long run if that route includes unsafe elevation changes. Using these variables, operators and engineers can use steady state simulation tools to test and analyze the hydraulic profiles of multiple scenarios to select the right route and the right pipeline construction elements to provide maximum safety and operational efficiency.
Operation and maintenance factors
Once the pipeline is completed, operators need to ensure the pipeline’s integrity is maintained, or even improved over time.
As construction is completed on a pipeline, it is recommended that it’s exposed to hydrostatic testing to prove the integrity of the materials used and to identify any potential leaks through monitoring real-time data. A visual inspection of both the inside and outside of the pipeline also is needed to identify the potential source of real-time data anomalies or find previously unidentified risk areas.
Internal integrity inspection is performed with Inline Inspection (ILI) technology, known as “smart pigs.” Smart pigs are transported periodically in pipelines and carry high-resolution visual equipment capable of detecting corrosion, dents and other integrity concerns. External integrity inspection has seen significant gains with the installation of advanced camera systems and the use of remote controlled drones. When combined with the data from the smart pigs and integrated with the data from the real-time hydraulic model or hydrostatic testing, these inspections provide critical insights into maintaining pipeline integrity.
Humans are one of the most critical factors in leak prevention, either as the primary preventative measure, or the primary cause.
It is essential that training programs not only qualify controllers in the areas of detection and mitigation, but provide extensive experience for prevention and early detection tools to keep commodity releases from occurring.
New human machine interface (HMI) designs have been built into the newest SCADA systems to ensure the operator can efficiently access the most critical information. The newest alarm management systems allow for highly customizable alarm hierarchies that help operators ensure their controllers are able to achieve both goals of rapid detection and maximizing prevention.
Working with the general public to prevent commodity releases is another prevention strategy that can be executed periodically and in real-time. When looking at the causes of commodity releases, many are associated with mechanical damage — somebody digging close to, or tampering with the pipeline. New intrusion detection technology has made it easier to detect if unsafe activity like digging is occurring near pipelines, or if a theft is being attempted.
Meeting new challenges and incorporating best practices is essential, and many of the maintenance and real-time preventative tools can be very economical for the pipeline company; both from the perspective of low-implementation costs, but more importantly in preventing costly impacts to pipeline operation, and public and environmental safety.